The first week in December is turning out to be the perfect time to talk about internet gardening. There has been so much snow dropped during the last week in November that you can forget even seeing where the garden is. The allotment is inaccessible due to blocked roads and the cold greenhouse has over a foot of frozen snow on it.
As I write this wee feature in the comfort of my warm home I look out onto a black sky about to offload another six inches of snow, then, when it clears thirty minutes later, and the sun comes out to show a brilliant winter wonderland.
The early winter was well forecast, so ample provisions have been acquired from my allotment to see us through a few weeks of bad weather.
Probably by the time you read this all the snow will have melted, and the winter jasmine will be in full flower, but then again I could be wrong.
Over the last ten years or so I became part of that fast growing band of silver haired surfers. Schools teach computer studies from primary age, so our kids are well versed up in internet technology. My generation has a lot to catch up on and although there is plenty courses in basic computing, it is not easy to adapt to this new technology when you have never ever put a finger on a keyboard.
Looking back it has been a huge struggle to learn computing language and practices, but when you have the basics mastered a new world opens up that has no boundaries.
We are now at the stage where just about anything you want to know about gardening or anything else is just a few clicks away, and if you want to chat to like minded people who may know the answer to your gardening problems you just join any number of forums dedicated to your topics of interest.
There are still very many people who have not as yet embraced the internet revolution so I will add a few words of encouragement to try and get a few started.
My first steps
Fear of stumbling into the unknown held me back in many areas of modern life, but I always got there eventually. I was the last to get a colour TV, the last to get a microwave, video, digital radio, digital camera and I still play my LP records and we still enjoy our terrestrial TV. One day I will get a mobile phone, but no great rush.
However I was more determined to get a computer as I thought it would help me sell my paintings and prints if I had a website. That would bring me into the modern world if I could handle the massive learning curve.
About ten years ago I enrolled onto an evening class for basic computing learning a wee bit about all the parts and how they worked. Still not enough to get me started.
I found another course on learning to surf and search the internet. I was getting better but was very slow as the keyboard, which I had never used before, really had me baffled. It took me nearly ten minutes to find the letters to type my name, and don’t expect them to start with capitals. I hadn’t got that far yet.
The next year I enrolled on another course, “Computing for the Terrified”. Now I felt more comfortable with that, but then I was subjected to a host of new terminology that was hard to get a grip on. Now I am a Scotsman and I know what a bar is for, but task bar, address bar, tool bar, menu bar, navigation bar, status bar. Give me a break !!!
The young lady sitting next to me was very helpful as she helped me to find the key called shift. She was planning to go on the new course, “European Computer Driving License” That was excellent advice. A new venture to try, so I enrolled at Kingsway Tech and started to broaden my knowledge base, to include scanning and printing.
At this time Dundee Business Gateway was running a series of courses on computers, the internet and website building for small businesses, so yet again this very determined lad enrolled on all of them. I got enough information on just what to look for to buy my first computer with confidence. Now I could practice all these lessons I had been taught. Before long I was searching, emailing, scanning, adding pictures from my camera, printing, booking buses, trains, holidays, and building up a list of my favourite sites that I look at frequently. I think I was ready to build my own website.
The course at Business Gateway showed you how to build two pages with text and images which then linked to each other. More information was added on optimization to help your site get found by Google. If I could create a two page website it was easy to add more pages as the need arose. The format was just the same.
My site which I called www.johnstoa.com started of as four pages for paintings, and the same for prints, but then I added one for art classes, one for exhibitions and there was always a need for more.
My garden had always been a source for paintings, so I started to add garden pages. As I searched the web for interesting websites relevant to art and gardening these got added into a links page.
My site is now over two hundred pages and big enough, but since I do a fair bit of gardening research I needed somewhere to document these activities. I now incorporate all my gardening activities into these features for the Dundee Courier and archive them in date order in a new blog.
Each one has its own heading so topics can easily be extracted. Since it is my intention to add my artwork activities as well as gardening my blog is called, the “Scottish artist and his garden”.
Learning computing has been a big uphill struggle, but a lot of the problem was lack of keyboard skills. The end result was opening up a new way of living where the computer is used for every aspect of life from checking the weather, the roads, artists and art galleries, cooking recipes, history, geography, cinemas, football results, lottery results, (still waiting on the big one), music and telephoning family and friends with Skype, and off course gardening.
Every worthwhile nursery, garden centre, grower and product supplier has a website. So do Botanical gardens, the Royal Horticultural Society, stately homes, research institutes and numerous allotment sites.
If you wish to find information, a picture or where you can buy a plant just go to Google and type in the common or botanical name and browse through the result pages. Pests, diseases, weed control, pruning, planting, composts, greenhouses, sheds, fences, polythene and numerous other products are all ready to find.
Whenever you find a really good site that you wish to refer to again at a later date you can right click the home page and save it to your favourites list.
You can look up local garden centres such as www.glendoick.com or www.dobbies.com or if you wish to look up specialist plant growers I have happily used all of the following.
There are many excellent rose growers including www.davidaustinroses.com and his daughter Claire has a really good hardy plant nursery at www.claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk.
I grow lots of fruit so a good grower with lots of information on his website is www.kenmuir.co.uk,
and I have been buying my chrysanthemums from Harold Walker for nearly twenty years. See his site at www.walkersplantcentre.co.uk and if you want the best nursery for begonias, polyanthus or delphiniums try www.blackmore-langdon.com. They are not cheap but you will get excellent plants.
When you need to protect your crops from birds with netting or you need plant pots or trays or many other garden products try www.lbsgardenwarehouse.co.uk.
Education and Research and Allotments
Our own Dundee botanical gardens can be found at www.dundee.ac.uk/botanic and for the latest in crops research browse over the website of the Scottish Crops Research Institute at www.scri.ac.uk
This is research at commercial levels but for garden information on everything, you cannot beat the Royal Horticultural Society website at www.rhs.org.uk
There are many allotment sites worth checking out. Try www.allotment.org.uk which has links to everything you are likely to grow except saskatoons. You will need to try my website for that.
Then check out both the National Society at www.nsalg.org.uk and the Scottish Society at www.sags.org.uk
You will soon find there is a wealth of great sites to browse round. Enjoy them.